We all can’t wait to get out and work in our gardens after a long winter season.
North Dakota State University Extension is launching a column to help you grow a bountiful garden and beautiful landscape. We will be sharing science-based, targeted information for North Dakotas on a weekly basis. This week we start with the foundation of your garden, the soil.
I would say the soil is the most important part of your garden, not the vegetable plants. Healthy soil is the key to a garden that produces a bountiful harvest.
Your first step is to make sure the soil is dry enough to be cultivated. Working the soil when it is too wet can destroy the soil structure, resulting in hard, poorly drained and aerated soils.
You have an easy way to tell if your garden soil is ready to be tilled. Take the 2-3 inch deep soil in your garden in your hand and gently press it into a ball. If the ball collapses, the ground is ready to be worked. Otherwise, the floor will need a bit more drying time before it can be worked.
Once your soil is dry enough to work, the next step is to add organic matter such as compost or peat moss. The addition of organic matter improves the structure of the soil as well as the water and nutrient retention capacities.
Organic matter is the best amendment for any soil situation. Organic matter can be added in the fall or spring to existing garden soil about 2 to 3 inches deep before tilling the soil.
The last step is adding fertilizer. Typical nutrients that plants need are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). The only way to know for sure what your soil needs is to perform a soil test on your garden. The NDSU Soil Testing Laboratory offers soil testing to homeowners.
For $ 19.50 plus shipping, the lab will test the amount of N, P, K, pH, soluble salts and organic matter. Laboratory staff will then provide personalized recommendations for your site.
The test is well worth the cost, especially if you save yourself the expense of fertilizer. Soil tests can be done annually or every few years, depending on your gardening style. Local extension offices have soil test bags, instructions and information sheets for gardeners, or go online at www.ndsu.edu/snrs/services/soilâtestingâlab.
If you don’t have time to do a soil test before planting, the general recommendation is to add 1 pound of all-purpose fertilizer such as 10-10-10 per 100 square feet of garden or add more. smaller amounts of nitrogen a couple of times during the growing season.
Incorporate the fertilizer by plowing or raking it into the soil. When you’re ready to plant, prepare the seedbed by leveling the soil with the back of a heavy rake to break up large chunks of soil.
Something to think about during the summer is heading towards no-till or cut-back gardening. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service encourages building healthy soils by keeping the soil covered as much as possible and disturbing the soil as little as possible, keeping plants growing throughout the soil. year to nourish the soil and by diversifying the plant material through crop rotation.
Start this fall by placing a thick layer of mulch, compost, grass clippings, leaves or similar organic material in a layer about 6 to 8 inches deep on your garden soil. Let the organic matter sit over the winter. When the garden is ready to plant next spring, move the mulch to the side and use a hoe to dig the furrow for the seeds or a hand trowel to dig the holes for the grafts.
When the seedlings have emerged and the plants are sprouting, move the mulch or add mulch closer to the plants but not touching the stems. Take advantage of reduced weed competition and healthier soil.